The Public Eye

The Public Eye: Sports complex will anchor North Natomas park

Published: Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012 - 10:52 am

As thousands of families flocked to Sacramento's North Natomas neighborhoods over the past decade, they did so with the promise that the area would be anchored by a 207-acre park. That park, city officials insisted, would have ballfields, a farmers market and a lakeside cafe.

Problem is, the city never figured out a way to pay for all of that.

But now, all these years later, there is progress in North Natomas Regional Park. Construction is well under way on a $4 million baseball and softball Little League complex. Also in the works is a playground and parking lot.

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby led the effort to secure the funding for the project, which came from fees paid by developers that are earmarked for parks. She said construction has helped spark renewed optimism in North Natomas, where housing prices have risen by 20 percent over last year after years of declines.

"People are starting to feel better," she said last week, walking on a bike path bordering the Little League complex. "This is a manifestation of that."

Ashby and others acknowledge that the failure of City Hall to come through on its plans to fully develop North Natomas Regional Park has stung. A dog park was built a few years back, but most of the vast green space remains undeveloped.

When she moved to the area in 2003, Ashby thought her oldest son would have the chance to play baseball at the park. Now, he's a senior in high school and that opportunity is gone.

However, it will be there for hundreds of other children, including Ashby's younger son. More than 800 kids play in the North Natomas Little League – a number that has doubled in just the past five years.

"The good thing about the housing problem was that it made everyone stay and make the best of what we have here," said John Feser, the coaching coordinator for the North Natomas Little League and the league's liaison with City Hall during the planning process of the fields. "But that park has been sitting there. It's been pretty frustrating."

Ashby also wants to build a permanent farmers market site adjacent to the Little League complex, once she can find the money. A snack shack and storage building planned for the ballpark can't be built until the federal government lifts a ban on new construction in North Natomas while nearby levees are upgraded.

Still, with the Little League complex scheduled for completion in the spring, neighborhood and youth sports leaders are happy that any progress at all is being made in the park.

"It's making an area where the community can gather, in a neighborhood where there aren't many of those places," said Rosemarie Ruggieri, one of the leaders of a group called Friends of the North Natomas Regional Park and a city parks commissioner.

Between 2000 and 2010, North Natomas was one of the region's main growth frontiers, as a suburb of 55,000 people rose from a plain that formerly had housed 1,600, according to census data.

The area is now home to 40 percent of the city's total parks acreage, Ashby said, but none of those spaces holds as much importance to the neighborhood's psyche as North Natomas Regional Park.

"When you went around to new houses during the boom, they were giving out plans of what the regional park would look like," Feser said.

"But they didn't tell you there was no plan to do it for a long time. This community really needs this."

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